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Lithium Use in Batteries

Circular 1371

U.S. Department of the Interior


U.S. Geological Survey
On the cover.  Flakes of lithium manganese phosphate can serve as electrodes for batteries.
Photograph by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (http://www.pnl.gov/news/
release.aspx?id=814).
Lithium Use in Batteries

By Thomas G. Goonan

Circular 1371

U.S. Department of the Interior


U.S. Geological Survey
U.S. Department of the Interior
KEN SALAZAR, Secretary

U.S. Geological Survey


Marcia K. McNutt, Director

U.S. Geological Survey, Reston, Virginia: 2012

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Suggested citation:
Goonan, T.G., 2012, Lithium use in batteries: U.S. Geological Survey Circular 1371, 14 p., available at
http://pubs.usgs.gov/circ/1371/.
iii

Contents
Abstract............................................................................................................................................................1
Introduction.....................................................................................................................................................1
Lithium Demand..............................................................................................................................................3
Lithium Consumption Statistics...........................................................................................................3
Effect of Electric and Hybrid Cars on Lithium Demand...................................................................4
Estimates of Future Lithium Demand..................................................................................................4
Lithium Supply.................................................................................................................................................5
Lithium Carbonate Prices..............................................................................................................................7
Lithium Batteries.............................................................................................................................................8
Battery Types..........................................................................................................................................8
Battery Production................................................................................................................................9
Battery Recycling..................................................................................................................................9
Lithium Battery Outlook...............................................................................................................................11
References Cited..........................................................................................................................................12

Figures
1.  Chart showing consumption of lithium in the United States from 1900 through 2007........3
2.  Chart showing sales of rechargeable batteries worldwide from 1991 through 2007.........4
3.  Chart showing production of lithium, by deposit type, worldwide from 1990 through
2008..................................................................................................................................................6
4.  Chart showing the unit value of imports of lithium carbonate into the United States
from 1989 through 2008.................................................................................................................7
5.  Chart showing lithium consumed in battery production worldwide from 1993
through 2009...................................................................................................................................9
6.  Graph showing sales of hybrid automobiles in the United States and the price of
light sweet crude oil from 2000 through 2009..........................................................................11

Tables
1.  Announced introductions of lithium-ion powered automobiles through July 2010............2
2.  World market shares for various lithium end-uses from 2007 through 2009.......................3
3.  World production of lithium from minerals and brine in 2008, by country...........................6
4.  Common lithium-ion rechargeable battery chemistries.........................................................8
5.  European and North American lithium battery recyclers.....................................................10
iv

Conversion Factors and Datum


Multiply By To obtain
Length
meter (m) 3.281 foot (ft)
kilometer (km) 0.6214 mile (mi)
Mass
kilogram (kg) 2.205 pound avoirdupois (lb)
metric ton (t) 1.102 ton, short (2,000 lb)
Energy
kilowatthour (W) 3,600,000 joule (J)

Vertical coordinate information is referenced to the North American Vertical Datum of 1988
(NAVD 88).
Horizontal coordinate information is referenced to the North American Datum of 1983 (NAD 83).
As used in this report, one mass unit of lithium carbonate produces 0.1879 mass unit of lithium
(thus, to produce one mass unit of lithium requires 5.3220 mas units of lithium carbonate).

Abbreviations and Acronyms


DOE U.S. Department of Energy
EV electric vehicle
HEV hybrid electric vehicle
Li lithium
Ni-MH nickel-metal hydride
PHEV plug-in hybrid electric vehcle
RBRC Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation
INMETCO International Metals Reclamation Company, Inc.
USGS U.S. Geological Survey
Lithium Use in Batteries

By Thomas G. Goonan

nickel, and phosphorus. Batteries are ubiquitous in advanced


Abstract economies, powering vehicle operations, sensors, computers,
electronic and medical devices, and for electrical grid-
Lithium has a number of uses but one of the most
system load-leveling and are produced and discarded by
valuable is as a component of high energy-density
the billions each year. There is concern that the demand for
rechargeable lithium-ion batteries. Because of concerns
battery metals could increase, possibly to the point at which
over carbon dioxide footprint and increasing hydrocarbon
a shortage of these metals will occur. Lithium is of particular
fuel cost (reduced supply), lithium may become even more
interest because it is the least likely of the battery metals to be
important in large batteries for powering all-electric and
replaced by substitution because it has the highest charge-to-
hybrid vehicles. It would take 1.4 to 3.0 kilograms of lithium
weight ratio, which is desired for batteries in transportation
equivalent (7.5 to 16.0 kilograms of lithium carbonate) to
applications.
support a 40-mile trip in an electric vehicle before requiring
Lithium batteries already enjoy a sizeable market,
recharge. This could create a large demand for lithium.
powering laptop computers, cordless heavy-duty power
Estimates of future lithium demand vary, based on numerous
tools, and hand-held electronic devices. But an even greater
variables. Some of those variables include the potential for
market could exist for lithium as a component of electric
recycling, widespread public acceptance of electric vehicles,
and hybrid vehicle batteries and for alternative energy
or the possibility of incentives for converting to lithium-
production. Concerns about the carbon dioxide footprint of
ion-powered engines. Increased electric usage could cause
hydrocarbon-based powerplants and internal-combustion-
electricity prices to increase. Because of reduced demand,
powered automobiles, the projected hydrocarbon shortage
hydrocarbon fuel prices would likely decrease, making
(which could mean high prices) in coming years, and U.S.
hydrocarbon fuel more desirable.
dependency on foreign hydrocarbon fuels have spurred
In 2009, 13 percent of worldwide lithium reserves,
great interest in alternative energy sources. Electric-
expressed in terms of contained lithium, were reported to be
powered vehicles are expected to take market share from
within hard rock mineral deposits, and 87 percent, within
internal-combustion-powered vehicles in the future. Large
brine deposits. Most of the lithium recovered from brine came
batteries are and will continue to be needed for powering
from Chile, with smaller amounts from China, Argentina, and
all-electric and hybrid vehicles and also for load leveling
the United States. Chile also has lithium mineral reserves, as
within solar- and wind-powered electric generation
does Australia. Another source of lithium is from recycled
systems. Research on lithium for use in large batteries is
batteries. When lithium-ion batteries begin to power vehicles,
in advanced stages. Future light vehicles will potentially
it is expected that battery recycling rates will increase because
be powered by electric motors with large, lightweight
vehicle battery recycling systems can be used to produce new
batteries, and lithium is a particularly desirable metal for
lithium-ion batteries.
use in these batteries because of its high charge-to-weight
ratio. Table 1 shows the plans of automobile manufacturing
companies, as of 2010, for introducing lithium-ion-powered
Introduction vehicles.
This report addresses some of the issues raised by
Lithium is the lightest metal and the least dense solid the increased focus on lithium, including the context of
element and, in the latter part of the 20th century, became the lithium market into which future lithium-based large
important as an anode material in lithium batteries. The batteries must fit, the projected effect of electric and hybrid
element’s high electrochemical potential makes it a valuable cars on lithium demand, various estimates for future lithium
component of high energy-density rechargeable lithium-ion demand, and obstacles to reaching the more optimistic
batteries. Other battery metals include cobalt, manganese, estimates.
2   Lithium Use in Batteries

Table 1. Announced introductions of lithium-ion powered automobiles through July 2010.


[Data are from Ford Motor Company (2009), Kanellos (2009), Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc. (2009), Abuelsamid (2010), American Honda Motor Co., Inc.
(2010), China Car Times (2010), Ewing (2010), General Motors Company (2010), Green Car Reports (2010), Murray (2010), Nissan (2010), Osawa and Taka-
hashi (2010), and Tesla Motors (2010). JV, joint venture; kW, kilowatt; kWh, kilowatthour; mph, miles per hour; V, volt]

Automobile Date of
Vehicle name (type) Comments
manufacturer introduction
Audi E-Tron (pure electric) 2013 Concept sports car.
Lithium-ion battery powered motor on each wheel.
BYD (China) E6 (pure electric) 2010 Currently being tested by Shenzhen Taxi Co.
Iron-based lithium-ion battery.
About $43,000 retail (before 20 percent government subsidy).
BMW Mega City (pure electric) 2013 Planning stage.
Chrysler Fiat 500EV (pure electric) 2012 Lithium-ion battery pack.
Estimated range 80-100 miles.
Expect to use U.S.-produced battery.
Ford Ford Fusion BEV (pure electric) 2011 Currently testing concept cars.
Lithium-ion battery pack.
Capacity of 23 kWh and a range of up to 75 miles.
Charging the batteries will take between 6 and 8 hours, using a
household 230-V electricity supply.
General Motors Chevrolet Volt (pure electric) 2011 Concept car exists.
Powered by lithium-ion battery pack, which will be
manufactured in the United States.
Honda FCX Clarity (fuel cell) 2010 Hydrogen-powered fuel cell.
Lithium-ion battery for supplemental power.
Hyundai Blue-Will (plug-in hybrid) 2012 Lithium-ion battery powered.
Mercedes Benz SLS AMG (pure electric) 2013 Concept sports car.
Hydrogen fuel cell plus lithium-ion battery.
Nissan LEAF (plug-in hybrid) 2012 May 26, 2010, broke ground for:
Auto plant 150,000-vehicle-per-year capacity.
Lithium-ion battery plant 200,000 unit-per-year capacity.
Tesla Roadster (pure electric) 2008 Currently marketing electric automobiles.
Lithium-ion battery pack (liquid cooled); 900 pounds, storing
56 kWh of electric energy, delivering 215 kW of electric
power
Toshiba-Mitsubishi JV Unspecified unspecified Hopes to sell lithium-ion batteries for future Mitsubishi Motors
vehicles.
Toyota Prius-PHV (plug-in hybrid) 2010 Test program, 500 vehicles placed worldwide.
First generation lithium-ion battery.
Maximum range (fully electric) = 13 miles.
Maximum speed (fully electric) = 60 mph.
Volkswagen e-Golf (pure electric) 2013 To be tested in 2011.
Air-cooled 26.5 kW lithium-ion battery pack.
Expect 93 miles on one charge.
Lithium Demand  3

(NiMH) batteries started to be replaced by lithium-ion


Lithium Demand batteries (fig. 2). The greater charge-to-density (power-to-
weight) ratio of lithium is favorable for electronic devices and
Lithium Consumption Statistics has helped to drive this trend.

Apparent consumption of lithium in the United States


Table 2. World market shares for various lithium end-uses from
has been recorded since at least 1900 (fig. 1) and includes
2007 through 2009.
only imports minus exports because lithium is not mined
domestically. Significant apparent consumption began in the [World market share is expressed as a percentage (%) of the total global sales
1950s, peaked in 1974, and has shown a slightly decreasing of lithium; production is in metric tons of contained lithium. Data are from
trend since 1974. The consumption figures do not include Jaskula (2008–2010)]
lithium contained in imported finished assemblies, for
example, lithium contained in batteries (almost all of which End-use 2007 2008 2009
are manufactured overseas) that are within computers, World market share:
electronic devices, and tools. Ceramics and glass 18% 31% 30%
In 2007 and 2008, an estimated 25,400 metric tons (t) of
Batteries 25% 23% 21%
lithium was used each year for various products worldwide.
Owing to the general downturn in the world economies, Lubricating greases 12% 10% 10%
total lithium use in 2009 decreased to approximately 18,000 Pharmaceuticals and 7% 7% 7%
t. Table 2 lists the percentage of lithium used worldwide polymers
in each product during those 3 years, as estimated by the Air conditioning 6% 5% 5%
U.S. Geological Survey (Jaskula, 2008–2010). Of particular Primary aluminum 4% 3% 3%
significance, the lithium use in batteries decreased by (alloying)
approximately 2,062 t, or 35 percent, between 2008 and 2009.
Other 28% 21% 24%
Lithium use in rechargeable batteries increased from zero in
1991 to 80 percent of the market share in 2007, with 1992 World production, in metric tons 25,400 25,400 18,000
being the first time nickel-cadmium and nickel-metal-hydride of contained lithium

4,500

4,000

3,500

3,000
Consumption, in metric tons

2,500

2,000

1,500

1,000

500

0
1900 1910 1920 1930 1940 1950 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000 2010
Year

Figure 1. Chart showing consumption of lithium in the United States from 1900 through 2007. Values are in metric tons. Data are from
U.S. Geological Survey (2010).
4   Lithium Use in Batteries

100
Lithium-polymer batteries

80

Lithium-ion batteries
Sales, in percent

60

40
Nickel-metal-hydride batteries

20 Nickel-cadmium batteries

0
1991 1993 1995 1997 1999 2001 2003 2005 2007
Year

Figure 2. Chart showing sales of rechargeable batteries worldwide from 1991 through 2007. Values are expressed as percentage of
total global sales of rechargeable batteries. Data are from Wilburn (2007) and Takashita (2008).

Effect of Electric and Hybrid Cars on Lithium battery, which is desirable for powering electric vehicles.
Although NiMH batteries are affected by the “memory
Demand effect” (the battery loses its capacity when it is recharged
Although electric vahicles have existed for more than a without being fully depleted), lithium-ion batteries are not
century, Toyota’s hybrid Prius was the first to have commercial (PlanetWatch, 2009). These qualities have helped to bring
success. Now many automobile manufacturers are expanding lithium-ion technology to the forefront as the object of
into cutting-edge electromotive powertrains (table 1; Hsiao extensive research (Gaines and Cuenca, 2000). In automotive
and Richter, 2008). Electric cars are characterized as—all applications, individual cells are typically connected together
electric (EV), hybrid (HEV), or plug-in hybrid (PHEV) in various configurations and packaged with associated control
vehicles. Concerns about the dependence on imports of oil and safety circuitry to form a battery module (Anderson,
and about the carbon footprint of internal-combustion engines 2009). Therefore, though most research is directed toward
in current automobile industry products have created this improving lithium-ion battery technology at the cell level,
interest in electric vehicles. In fact, the U.S. Government research is likely to also be directed toward determining the
planned to provide $11 billion in loans and grants to car and most effective cell configurations and packaging.
Depending on lithium-ion battery chemistry, it
battery makers to reduce the country’s dependence on foreign
would take 1.4 to 3.0 kilograms (kg) of lithium equivalent
oil (Smith and Craze, 2009). These funds will be targeted for
(7.5–16.0 kg of lithium carbonate) to support a 40-mile
research and development and for production and recycling
trip in an electric vehicle before requiring recharge (Gaines
facilities.
and Nelson, 2009). If the trend toward replacing internal
Through 2010, the predominant battery technology
combustion engine vehicles with electric vehicles continues
powering experimental electric vehicles has been NiMH,
and lithium-ion batteries become the preferred power source
although the General Motors EV–1 was powered by a lead-
for electric vehicles, then a large demand for lithium carbonate
acid battery. NiMH batteries offer proven performance,
could potentially be generated.
reasonable energy density, and thermal stability. They are
also large, heavy, and expensive and require a long time to
charge compared with lithium-ion batteries. In 2008, attention Estimates of Future Lithium Demand
was directed toward lithium-ion batteries as an alternative,
although safety, longevity, and cost were of concern (Hsiao Several authors have estimated future lithium demand
and Richter, 2008). The high charge-to-weight ratio of lithium using certain assumptions and projections of electric car
makes the lithium-ion battery much lighter than the NiMH demand. Gaines and Nelson (2009) optimistically calculate
Lithium Supply  5

that U.S. annual demand for electric vehicles might require as such as smart meters would have an affect (Xcel Energy Inc.,
much as 22,000 t of lithium (117,000 t of lithium carbonate) 2010).
by 2030, and as much as 54,000 t (287,000 t of lithium
carbonate) by 2050, assuming the lithium-nickel-cobalt-
graphite chemistry that is currently popular. This projection
further assumes continued growth in all automobile sales, 52
Lithium Supply
percent electric vehicle penetration in 2030, and 90 percent
The two most important sources of lithium are a
in 2050, which Gaines and Nelson admit are optimistic
assumptions. hard silicate mineral called spodumene, which is found in
Tahil (2007, 2008) expressed concern that, if the 60 pegmatites, and brine lake deposits that contain lithium
million cars that are produced worldwide each year were chloride. In 2009, of the worldwide reported lithium reserves,
totally replaced with plug-in hybrids, each having a 5-kilowatt expressed in terms of contained lithium, 13 percent was
battery (requiring about 1.40 kg of lithium carbonate), demand reported to be within hard rock mineral deposits, and 87
for lithium carbonate would be 420,000 t annually, which is percent, within brine deposits (Jaskula, 2009, 2010). Reserves
nearly 5 times the current lithium carbonate production. This are known quantities that are presently economic to exploit
would place an unsustainable demand on lithium resources (U.S. Bureau of Mines and U.S. Geological Survey, 1980).
because of geochemical constraints in extracting the product Production of lithium carbonate from spodumene is more
from known deposits. In July 2009, Chemetall GMBH, a energy intensive compared with production from brine and
division of Rockwood Holdings, Inc., which holds 30 percent is more costly because of added extraction and beneficiation
of the global lithium carbonate market share, estimated that challenges. Comparing lithium production from these two
lithium carbonate demand in 2020 would be either 145,000 t sources between 1990 and 2008 (fig. 3), the compound annual
(42 percent automotive) or 116,000 t (27 percent automotive), growth rate (CAGR) of lithium from brine deposits has been
depending on if Gaines and Nelson’s (2009) or Tahil’s (2007, 11.7 percent per year, whereas lithium’s CAGR from hard rock
2008) scenario was used (Haber, 2008; Chemetall, 2009). deposits has been 7.4 percent per year. Overall, the CAGR of
These new lithium demand estimates, which are derived lithium production from 1990 to 2008 was 10.4 percent.
from expected use of lithium in next-generation electric In 2008, Australia produced most of the lithium from
vehicles, vary. One must understand the assumptions, hard rock (table 3). Most of the lithium recovered from
including the potential for recycling, that underlie published brine came from Chile, with smaller amounts from China,
estimates. Before any of the more optimistic estimates for Argentina, and the United States. Chile has two producers of
lithium demand are actualized, some significant obstacles must lithium products, Sociedad Química y Minera de Chile S.A.
be overcome. These are summarized below. (SQM) and Chemetall SCL. Both companies operate at the
The lithium-based battery packs used in automobiles Salar de Atacama, Chile, and account for more than 65 percent
are much larger than the small lithium-ion batteries currently of the world lithium market (Lithium Site, 2009). The Salar de
being produced for use in electronic devices. While technical Atacama holds about 29 percent of the world’s known lithium
testing has been encouraging, large-scale lithium-ion battery resources, and together, the salt lakes of South America
packs have not been fully market tested (table 1). The level (Argentina, Bolivia, and Chile) contain about 75 percent of
of use that electric vehicles achieve will depend in part on the world’s known lithium resources (Jaskula, 2010, p. 93). At
consumer acceptance. Product safety, convenience of use, SQM’s operation, the brine is pumped from about 40 meters
reliability, and cost of purchase and operation are likely to (m) below the surface and then placed in surface ponds, where
influence consumer acceptance. it is exposed to evaporation under conditions of high heat,
Electric-powered vehicles currently cost more than low humidity, and strong surface winds (Energy Investment
equivalently-sized vehicles powered by internal combustion. Strategies, 2008). The resulting lithium chloride concentrate is
For electric vehicles ti become cost effective, the savings from further treated with sodium carbonate to produce the desired
using electric power would have to offset the incremental lithium carbonate. In 2008, SQM’s annual capacity of lithium
capital cost (Simpson, 2006) and the cost of operating the carbonate production at the Salar de Atacama was expanded
vehicle. to 40,000 metric tons per year (t/yr); meanwhile, Chemetall
Competition between the price of electricity and the price maintained capacity of 27,000 t/yr at the Salar de Atacama
of grasoline will affect the adoption of electric vehicles. The (Chemetall, 2009; de Solminihac, 2009).
price of gasoline is set by market forces and changes as levels Argentina has at least two brine deposits of importance.
of consumption change. The price for electric power is usually The Salar del Hombre Muerto operation, which is at 3,962
set by regulatory bodies and is therefore less responsive to m above sea level and operated by FMC Corporation, is
changes in use. recovering lithium using a proprietary separation process
The adoption of electric vehicles is likely to be (Lithium Site, 2009). Production capacity at the Salar del
constrained by the capacity of the electricity grid unless Hombre Muerto, is 12,000 t/yr of lithium carbonate and 6,000
electric vehicles are recharged during off-peak times. Changes t/yr of lithium chloride (Tahil, 2007). In January 2007, the
in the pricing of recidential electricity and the use of devices brine operation Salar del Rincon opened pilot-plant-scale
6   Lithium Use in Batteries

30,000
Production, in metric tons of contained lithium

20,000

10,000
Salt brine

Hard rock

0
1990 1992 1994 1996 1998 2000 2002 2004 2006 2008
Year

Figure 3. Chart showing production of lithium, by deposit type, worldwide from 1990 through 2008. Values are in metric tons of
contained lithium. Data are from U.S. Bureau of Mines (1992–1995) and U.S. Geological Survey (1996–2009).

Table 3. World production of lithium from minerals and brine in 2008, by country.
[Values are in metric tons of contained lithium. Production data are estimated and rounded to no more than three significant digits. Table includes data available
through April 1, 2009. Data are from Jaskula (2008) and Tahil (2008). LiCl, lithium chloride; Li2CO3, lithium carbonate; NA, not available]

Country1 Deposit type Lithium product Production


Production from minerals:
Australia Spodumene Concentrate 6,280
Brazil Various Concentrate 160
Canada2 Spodumene Concentrate 690
China Various Li2CO3 880
Portugal Lepidolite Concentrate 700
Zimbabwe Various Concentrate 500
Total 9,210
Production from brine:
Argentina3 NA Li2CO3 1,880
NA LiCl 1,290
Chile 3 NA Li2CO3 9,870
NA LiCl 720
China NA Li2CO3 2,410
United States4 NA Li2CO3 1,710
Total 17,900
1
Other countries produce small amounts of lithium but are not included here.
2
Based on all Canada’s spodumene concentrates (Tantalum Mining Corp. of Canada Ltd., Tanco property).
3
New information was available from Argentine and Chilean sources, prompting major revisions in how lithium production was reported.
4
The estimate for the United States is taken as the suggested production of Chemetall’s Clayton Valley mine at Silver Peak, Nevada, as reported by Tahil
(2008, p. 20).
Lithium Carbonate Prices   7

operations in Argentina (Tahil, 2007); the operations were still build a 30,000-t/yr lithium carbonate production facility at the
under development in 2010. deposit (New Tang Dynasty Television, 2009).
China is also a major lithium producer (13 percent of These brine lake deposits and other deposits not
world production of contained lithium). Salt lakes are widely specifically discussed in this report each have unique
distributed across China’s western Qinghai, Tibet, Xinjaing characteristics with respect to lithium content, salt chemistry,
and inner Mongolia, with rich resources of boron, lithium, and general ease (cost) of processing. The market together
magnesium, and potassium (Ma, 2000). China is currently with the governments’ willingness to subsidize lithium supply
developing three brine lake deposits—the Taijinaier salt and demand, either directly or indirectly through tax-modified
lake in Qaidam Basin, Qinghai Province, north of Tibet; the behavior, will determine where the lithium is produced and the
Dangxiongcuo (DXC) salt lake in southwestern Tibet; and the reserve estimates of the moment.
Zhabuye salt lake in western Tibet (Tahil, 2007, p. 10). With Brine-originated lithium carbonate, the primary
the success of a 500-t/yr pilot plant at Taijinaier salt lake, ingredient in lithium-ion batteries, accounted for about 67
CITIC Guoan Scientific and Technical Company inaugurated percent of lithium production (excluding the United States)
a 35,000-t/yr lithium carbonate plant in 2007 (Zhang, in 2008. Lithium carbonate can be made from lithium
2009). The Canadian company Sterling Group Ventures is concentrate, but it is more expensive to do so (Tahil, 2007).
considering development of a 5,000-t/yr lithium carbonate Supply and demand for lithium is currently balanced.
plant at DXC salt lake (Zhang, 2009). The Zhabuye salt lake— Expansion of worldwide brine operations is dependent upon
the third largest salt lake (in terms of area) in the world—is at lithium carbonate from brines beings less expensive than from
4,400 m above sea level and is the largest lithium deposit in competing sources and an expanding lithium-based battery
China (Green Energy News, 2008). In 2008, Baiyin Zhabuye market to serve an assumed growing electric vehicle market.
Lithium Industries Co., Ltd, produced 2,000 t of lithium
carbonate and lithium hydroxide from this deposit and has
government approval to increase lithium carbonate production
capacity by 12,000 t/yr (Zhang, 2009). Lithium Carbonate Prices
The brines of the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia are also a
potential source of lithium carbonate. The deposit contains The prices of lithium carbonate (Li2CO3) imported into
approximately 9 million metric tons of lithium and could the United States from 1989 through 2008 are shown in
account for as much as 50 percent of the global lithium figure 4. The unit value of U.S. imports was used because it is
reserves; it is currently under consideration for development presumably more representative of world prices than the unit
(Tahil, 2007). The government of Bolivia has sought to keep value of U.S. exports, which are more refined and a higher
its development under government auspices and has begun to priced form of lithium carbonate.

Nominal dollars
4
Unit value, in dollars

1
Constant 2000 dollars

0
1988 1990 1992 1994 1996 1998 2000 2002 2004 2006 2008
Year

Figure 4. Chart showing the unit value of imports of lithium carbonate into the United States from 1989 through 2008. Values are in
dollars per kilogram of lithium carbonate. Data are from U.S. Geological Survey (1996–2009) and U.S. Bureau of Mines (1992–1995).
8   Lithium Use in Batteries

The unit value of imports of lithium carbonate into the There are many lithium-ion battery types and
United States decreased from 1995 through 1999, reflecting configurations. These batteries are not generally available
growth in supply of lithium carbonate from low-cost brine in standard household sizes but rather are manufactured
deposits (fig. 3). The period from 1999 through 2005 specifically for a particular electronic device. It is possible
experienced nondynamic supply and demand activity. From to classify lithium-ion battery types according to battery
2006 through 2008, increased demand for lithium carbonate chemistry and packaging. Table 4 lists the most common
resulted in higher prices, leading to increased investment in rechargeable lithium-ion chemistries.
exploration and new capacity development. One or more of the lithium-ion battery chemistries
Because automobile batteries are expected to become displayed in table 4 or another entirely different lithium-ion
(although they are not yet) a major factor in total battery battery chemistry may become the basis for the future electric
demand, there is some concern about whether world vehicle power supply. The major difference between batteries
lithium reserves will be sufficient to supply a future surge for electronics and batteries for electric vehicles will be size.
in automobile-generated lithium demand (Tahil, 2007, Increased size can be obtained by making assemblies of
2008). Others are less concerned (Pease, 2008; Beckdorf small cells or by developing singular large cells. A detailed
and Tilton, 2009; Gaines, 2009; Gaines and Nelson, 2009). cost and technical study of lithium-ion battery development
Historically, reported reserve levels were not limits but rather for automobiles is beyond the scope of this report but can be
found in Gaines and Cuenca (2000), Hsiao and Richter (2008),
were indicative of actual market conditions at the time of
Anderson and Patiño-Echeverri (2009), Burke and Miller
assessment.
(2009), Nelson, Santini, and Barnes (2009), and National
Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology
[Japan] (2009).
Lithium Batteries Rechargeable lithium-ion batteries can be categorized by
packaging in the following categories:

Battery Types • cylindrical cells, which are the most widely used pack-
aging for wireless communication, mobile computing,
Lithium batteries contain metallic lithium and are not biomedical instruments, and power tools (Buchmann,
rechargeable. The button-sized cells that power watches, 2004)
hand-held calculators, and small medical devices are usually • prismatic cells, which were developed in the early
lithium batteries. These are also called primary lithium 1990s, are made in various sizes and capacities, and
batteries, and they provide more useable power per unit are custom made for electronic devices, such as cell
weight than do lithium-ion batteries (called secondary phones (Buchmann, 2004)
batteries). Lithium-ion batteries use lithium compounds, • pouch cells, which were introduced in 1995, permit tai-
which are much more stable (less likely to oxidize loring to the exact dimensions of the electronic device
spontaneously) than the elemental lithium used in lithium manufacturer, and are also easily assembled into bat-
batteries (Green Batteries, 2009). tery packs as needed (Buchmann, 2004)

Table 4. Common lithium-ion rechargeable battery chemistries.


[Associated data are in specified units. Data are from Buchmann (2006), Burke and Miller (2009), and Gaines and Nelson (2009). Ah/g, ampere-hours per gram;
Al, aluminum; Co, cobalt; Fe, iron; Li, lithium; Ni, nickel; Mn, manganese; O, oxygen; PO4, phosphate; Wh/kg, watthours per kilogram]

Electric charge, Energy


Cell voltage
Cathode name and chemistry Ah/g density, Applications
Maximum Nominal Anode Cathode Wh/kg
Cobalt, Li(Ni 0.85, Co 0.1, Al 0.05)O2 4.2 3.6 0.36 0.18 100–150 Cell phone, cameras, laptops.
Manganese (spinel), (LiMn2)O4 4.0 3.6 0.36 0.11 100–120 Power tools, medical equipment.
Nickel, cobalt, manganese, Li(Ni 0.37, 4.2 3.6 0.36 0.18 100–170 Power tools, medical equipment.
Co 0.37, Mn 0.36)O2
Phosphate, (Li,Fe)PO4 3.65 3.25 0.36 0.16 90–115 Power tools, medical equipment.
Lithium Batteries  9

Battery Production percent of lithium produced went to automobile batteries in


2008 (Wilburn, 2008, p. 13).
Through 2009, lithium-ion (rechargeable) battery
production in the United States has been limited to small-
scale, high-profit-margin niche markets, such as medical, Battery Recycling
military, or space applications, and the greater part of general-
In 2009, an estimated 3,700 t of lithium, contained in
use lithium-ion batteries has been produced in China, Japan,
scrap batteries, became available to the world market. This
and the Republic of Korea (Wilburn, 2008, p. 3). In 2009,
estimate was determined by applying a Gaussian distribution
General Motors announced the construction of a lithium-
to the annual production of batteries (expressed as contained
ion battery pack production plant to be located in Warren,
lithium) for 2000–2008 and factoring in the average life
Michigan, which will produce vehicle batteries for the its new
of a lithium battery [assumed to be 4 years based on Dan’s
electric car, the Volt, which is scheduled to premier in 2011
(Brooke, 2009). Data (2008), and Mah (2007)]. The actual amount of lithium
Japan is a major producer of lithium-based batteries. recovered (worldwide) from recycled batteries in 2009 is not
In 2009, lithium-based batteries accounted for 43 percent of available for comparison to the amount available for recovery.
the total volume (4.34 billion units) of batteries produced in In the United States, it is unlikely that more than 20
Japan—47 percent of lithium batteries were primary lithium percent of the batteries available for recycling actually were
batteries, and 53 percent were lithium-ion batteries (Battery recycled. Europe, however, has stronger battery collection
Association of Japan, 2010). laws. Most scrap batteries in the United States have likely
Since lithium batteries first entered the market in been sequestered either in homes and businesses or released to
1993, about 45,000 t of lithium has been incorporated into municipal solid waste to be retired to landfills or combusted.
these batteries worldwide. Figure 5 shows the annual and In 2006, lithium-ion batteries were not considered to be a
cumulative lithium battery production from 1993 through hazardous waste in the United States (Mitchell, 2006).
2008. When lithium-ion batteries begin to power vehicles, it
Between 1993 and 2008, the lithium battery market is expected that battery recycling rates will increase because
consisted of nonrechargeable (primary) and rechargeable vehicle battery recycling systems, based on the lead-acid
(secondary) batteries for electronic devices. Only about 0.2 model currently in place, can be used to produce new

7,000 70,000

6,000 60,000

Cumulative consumption, in metric tons


Annual lithium consumption
Annual consumption, in metric tons

5,000 50,000

4,000 40,000

3,000 30,000

2,000 20,000

Cumulative lithium consumption


1,000 10,000

0 0
1992 1994 1996 1998 2000 2002 2004 2006 2008
Year

Figure 5. Chart showing lithium consumed in battery production worldwide from 1993 through 2009. The red line shows the amount of
lithium used worldwide for each year, and the blue line shows the total amount of lithium used worldwide in production of batteries. Values
are in metric tons of contained lithium. Data are from U.S. Geological Survey (1996–2010), Jaskula (2008–2010), and Takeshita (2008).
10   Lithium Use in Batteries

lithium-ion batteries. Recycling of electric vehicle batteries cannot be counted on to supplant pressure on in-ground
could provide 50 percent of the lithium requirement for new lithium resources.
batteries by 2040 (Chemetall, 2009; Gaines, 2009). The same methodology and assumptions applied to the
Most if not all types of batteries can be recycled. It high-power (10 ampere-hour) battery cut all of the monetary
costs about $1,100 to $2,200 to recycle 1 t of batteries returns by roughly one-half, placing the recycling decision
of any chemistry and size (including small cells), except very close to the break-even level. The economics of lithium
automobile batteries. Significant subsidies are still required ion battery recycling needs more research. Xu and others
from manufacturers, agencies, and governments to support the (2008) reviewed the research conducted on this subject
battery recycling programs (Buchmann, 2009). through 2007.
A high-energy (100 ampere-hour) battery processed The Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation
through recycling would return about 169 kg of lithium (RBRC) was founded in 1994 to promote recycling of
carbonate, 38 kg of cobalt, and 201 kg of nickel [calculated rechargeable batteries in North America (table 5). RBRC is a
from data reported by Hsiao (2008, p. 22)]. This estimate
nonprofit organization that collects batteries from consumers
is based on the assumptions that the cost of recycling large
and businesses and sends them to North American recycling
automobile batteries is similar to that for small batteries;
organizations, such as International Metals Reclamation
the automobile battery cathode chemistry will be Li[Ni 0.8,
Company, Inc. (INMETCO) and Toxco Inc. Since 1992, Sony
Co 0.15, Al 0.05]O2, and 98 percent of the metal will be
recovered in recycling. At 2008 prices (normalized to 2000 has partnered with Sumitomo Metals to recover cobalt from
dollar basis) for lithium carbonate and cobalt-nickel metals, used lithiumi-ion batteries (Hsiao, 2008).
the value of the recovered materials would be about $6,400. For most lithium-ion batteries, lithium represents less
At 2009 prices, which were very similar to 2005 prices for than 3 percent of the production cost; nickel and cobalt are
these materials, the value of the recovered materialswould the biggest economic drivers of recycling (Hamilton, 2009).
be about $4,100. Metal pricing will be very important to Toxco is North America’s leading battery recycler and has
recycling profitability. Lithium carbonate return contributes been recycling single-charge and rechargeable batteries used
only about 10 percent of the total monetary return. If in electronic devices and industrial applications since 1992
research takes cathode technology to less expensive metals, at its Canadian facility in Trail, British Columbia (Hamilton,
such as manganese and phosphorus, then the economic 2009). Toxco can recover up to 98 percent of the lithium
attractiveness of recycling these batteries could diminish, carbonate from lithium waste but focuses on cobalt and nickel
perhaps to a point at which recycled lithium carbonate (Hsiao, 2008).

Table 5. European and North American lithium battery recyclers.


[Battery processing capacity values are in metric tons per year. Data are from Tollinsky (2008), Toxco Inc. (2009), and European Battery Recycling Association
(2009)]

Region/country Company City, State/Province/region Capacity


Europe
Switzerland Batrec Industrie AG Wimmis, Bern 5,000
France Citron Rogerville, Seine-Maritime 130,000
Eurodieuze Industrie Dieuze, Moselle NA
Recupyl Domène, Isère 1 110
S.N.A.M. Viviez, Aveyron 4,000
Belgium Umicore Olen, Antwerp 3,000
North America
Canada Toxco, Inc. Trail, British Columbia NA
Canada Xstrata Nickel International Falconbridge, Ontario 3,000
United States Toxco Lancaster, Ohio NA
1
Pilot plant.
Lithium Battery Outlook   11

of the automobile market to grow, the relative cost of electric


Lithium Battery Outlook cars will have to decrease so that they are competitively
priced compared with internal combustion-powered cars.
There exists already a large (billions of units per year)
Also, the cost of electric car batteries would have to drop with
market for lithium and lithium-ion batteries, which are used to
economies of scale. This, in turn, would be accompanied by a
power hand-held electronic devices and for military purposes.
scale-up of the current (2010) lithium-ion battery technology
These can be and are recycled using established practices.
to batteries of appropriate size for automobiles. To date, this
However, the recycling rate is unknown. Those batteries that scale-up is indicated, with a heavy research and development
are not recycled either go to landfills or remain uncollected at focus by battery producers.
the user level. Figure 6 shows the sales of hybrid automobiles and crude
If and when the electric motor replaces the internal oil prices from 2000 through 2009. One should not infer a
combustion engine in cars and trucks, the demand for lithium correlation of electric vehicle sales and oil prices from the
as a major component of batteries, which is the focus of figure. It is more likely that both are codependent on general
battery research, should increase accordingly. Lithium economic activity levels. If lithium-containing batteries
recycling for the increment of demand represented by replace hydrocarbons for powering automobiles, then there
automobile batteries that contain lithium should be practical will be upward pressure on the prices of the active metals
and economical. The recycling would not only recover lithium that make up the cathodes of these batteries and possible
but would also recover the more expensive metals, including downward pressure on hydrocarbon prices.
cobalt and nickel. Lithium battery recyclers are already Existing lithium carbonate suppliers believe that they
investing in capacity to do just that (Toxco Inc., 2009). can accommodate the growing demand occasioned by a
Available data are insufficient to project future lithium growing electric car market into the future (Chemetall, 2009;
demand with certainty. Existing projections are speculative de Solminihac, 2009). The countries with extensive, relatively
and largely assume a regular progression of automobile sales low-cost, lithium brine deposits are Argentina, Bolivia, Chile,
and an increasing share for electric vehicles. If the general China, and the United States. The marginal cost of lithium
economy remains constrained, then demand for lithium will carbonate is mostly fixed by the cost of producing lithium
likely be constrained accordingly. For the electric car share carbonate from hard-rock spodumene deposits in Australia.

400 120

300 90

Price, in dollars per barrel


Sales, in thousand cars

200 60

Price of light sweet crude oil


100 30

0 0
2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010
Year

Figure 6. Graph showing sales of hybrid automobiles in the United States and the price of light sweet crude oil from 2000 through 2009.
Figures are in numbers of automobiles sold and dollars per barrel. Data are from Hsiao (2008), Hybrid Cars (2010), Truck Trend (2009), and
U.S. Department of Energy (2010).
12   Lithium Use in Batteries

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Manuscript approved on July 18, 2011.
Prepared by the Pembroke, Reston, and Fort Lauderdale Publishing Service
Centers.
Edited by Anna N. Glover and Jane Eggleston.
Graphics by Anna N. Glover and Ron Spencer.
Design and typography by Anna N. Glover.
Web support by Sue Bergin.

For more information concerning the research in this report, contact


Thomas G. Goonan
U.S. Geological Survey
Box 25046
Denver Federal Center
Mail Stop 750
Denver, CO 80225–0046
Telephone: (303) 236–5209
Goonan, T.G.—Lithium Use in Batteries—Circular 1371